Friday, July 08, 2011

Music Box: 'Panic of Girls' by Blondie (Fan Pack Edition)

Blondie's ninth studio album, "Panic of Girls," may not actually be a million times better than its two comeback predecessors, but something about it sure feels better. The killer 1-2-3 opening punch of "D-Day," "What I Heard" and "Mother" probably has a lot to do with it, but the fun doesn't (entirely) stop there. I got the Fan Pack version for my birthday and as giddy as I was at 44 to be opening this treasure trove -- a glorious full-color magazine, six buttons, four postcards shot by Chris Stein, a two-sided poster and a deluxe-edition CD with two bonus tracks -- I'm thinking my head would have exploded if this had happened in the '80s! Kudos from me -- the biggest and most critical Blondie fan in the world -- to whoever put that magazine together. It's filled with very rare photos (many, many I've never seen before), individual interviews with all six band members, plus chapters on the band's influence, Debbie's style, Debbie's movie career, all the members' solo projects plus individual articles about each of the band's eight albums leading up to "Panic," with era-specific photos and fascinating insights from the producers and band (Clem said they never knew if any of their albums were good until "The Hunter," which he knew was "a hit!" Chris thought the only problem was that "awful cover"). The most revealing -- or perhaps telling -- thing I got out of the interviews was that "Maria" isn't high on list of Debbie's favorites. She admits it's a great song and understands why the fans like it, but she sees it as looking backward, something she (sadly) isn't interested in doing. (Apparently looking back on charts hits isn't something she's fond of either?) But don't panic. The new album has just enough old-school Blondie to still be good, and enough experimentation to keep Debbie happy -- but no rap, thank God! -- that you'll do more than breath a sigh of relief, you might actually enjoy it.

Here's my song-by-song review. Would love to hear from others who have the album already.

1) "D-Day": Quirky-sounding opener, not really sure what it's about, but has just enough of a hint of the debut album that I like it. 8/10

2) "What I Heard": This is the "Maria" of the album, which is to say the song that sounds most like vintage Blondie, complete with ultra-catchy hook. As hardcore fans know, Jimmy Destri was pushed out of the reformed band many years ago and it's a shame, as he is the member who writes songs that sound the most like "Blondie." (Hence Debbie's dismay.) The band is lucky that new member Matt Katz-Bohen -- another keyboardist -- has a similar songwriting style, although something tells me the lyrics would have been even a tad more clever had Jimmy had his hands on this near-miss-of-a-classic. 9/10

3) "Mother": This is Debbie's finest moment lyrically and vocally. As mentioned, Debbie hates looking back, yet "Mother" strikes just the right blend of nostalgia and modern-day pop sensibilities. The video's kinda lame, but so is being a rocker in your 60s. Get over it and love it! 10/10

4) "The End, The End": This album has a trio of reggae-flavored songs, which some fans may take exception to. (I'm a fan, but even if I weren't, I find it insurmountably preferable to more rap. If I could have one wish for the rest of my life, it would be that Debbie Harry never raps again!
"Rapture," "Military Rap" and "The Beast" were fun -- everything since has been just awful.) Keep in mind, this is, as my friend Christopher calls it, "very very WHITE reggae, like we need it. I mean, it makes 'The Tide Is High' sound like Bob Marley." Unfortunately, this is the weakest of the three (the other two are covers). 5/10

5) "Girlie Girlie": This one's my favorite of the tropical numbers -- it's an "actual" reggae song that was a No. 1 hit in Jamaica for Sophia George, as well as a Top 10 hit in the U.K. -- and one of my favorites on the album, period. Light, breezy and playful -- put a daiquiri in my hand and I could listen to this on auto-repeat all day long. 10/10

6) "Love Doesn't Frighten Me": The second contribution from Matt Katz-Bohen is his "Nothing Is Real but the Girl." Another high-energy, catchy pop song that has single potential, but wouldn't be nearly as big a hit as "What I Heard." 7/10

7) "Words in My Mouth": This one sounds like Debbie had a great idea with its title and hook -- "don't put your words in my mouth, that's not what I meant" -- but the melody never really came together. 5/10

8) "Sunday Smile": The third reggae song is a Beirut cover (frontman Zachary Francis Condona was born the year "Rockbird" came out!). It's starting to grow on me -- the horns are very "Tide Is High" -- but that I dug up the original and like it better should tell you something. 7/10

9) "Wipe Off My Sweat": Debbie whips out her Spanish dictionary for this dance-friendly ditty. It's not nearly as good as "Keep on Going," one of few high moments of "Debravation" -- the "papi, papi" refrain alone is something I wish I'd never heard -- but the beat is pretty sweat sweet, so I'll give it somewhat of a slide. 4/10

10) "Le Bleu": I guess following a Spanish song up with a song sung entirely in French is the band's way of saying, "We're old and we're legends, so fuck you if you don't like it." Luckily, this one's by Chris Stein and has a certain film soundtrack sensibility to it that if not for its album predecessor would be an enjoyable novelty on the album. 6/10

11) "China Shoes": The sole Harry/Stein contribution on the album is a keeper. Maybe not vintage Blondie material, but clever lyrics and memorable tune make it "Def, Dumb and Blonde" worthy, which ain't half-bad. 7/10

Bonus tracks:

12) "Horizontal Twist": This one is the "punk" song that didn't make the final cut. It uses "Sheryl Crow" as a verb, seriously, but the "fancy that, fancy this ..." refrain is awfully catchy. They'd have been smart to include this one on the album instead of "The End, The End" or "Wipe Off My Sweat." 8/10

13) "Mirame": Yet another cover and another song in Spanish! This would have been the "perfect" throwaway bonus track if not for the two foreign-language songs already on the main album. 5/10

If my math is correct, the main album adds up to a 6.3. That may not sound great, but throw the six great songs on your iPod and you'll be cruising like it's 1980 and you're waiting for Debbie to come on "Solid Gold" ...

Order your Fan Pack HERE. I believe it comes out in a regular edition this fall.

A look at all the goodies


nojarama said...

I stand beside you 100% with your review. Hope to see them play when they arrive here on the left coast in October!

Devin Tait said...

Yep, I pretty much agree with everything you said. Of the three later-era Blondie albums, I think this might be my least favorite, but I still enjoy a lot of it.

this alien said...

"We're old and we're legends, so fuck you if you don't like it."

love that characterization, seems right on. fwiw, "bleu" is a favorite from the album, though i agree with pretty much all you posted.

the more listens, the more the album grows. and it's better on shuffle, than in the original sequence. for me.